PEZ Talk: John Deering
Over the years there have been a few teams run short of money during the season, but none as spectacularly as the Linda McCartney team in 2001. The money was gone by the end of the Tour Down Under and the dream was gone. Ed Hood got hold of the team press manager, John Deering, for the inside line.
It all seemed too good to be true; a guy called Julian Clarke gets an idea over a supermarket trolley to rope Linda McCartney Vegetarian Foods in to sponsor a professional cycling team. He’s not a cyclist, he’s a dreamer but he pulls it off; Paul McCartney pens a tune for the team website, the team rides and wins a stage in the 2000 Giro – and come so close to making it two stage wins. They win the Giro del Lazio, too and the following season they net Jacob’s Creek Wines and Jaguar cars as co-sponsors – a real coup.
The trouble is that the whole edifice is built upon sand; neither Jacob’s Creek or Jaguar have signed up and inevitably, it collapses, Julian Clarke disappears and the team enters cycling legend. (And you may be interested to know that a certain Bradley Wiggins was on the team roster when it all went wrong). John Deering was their PR man on the roller coaster ride that was the Linda McCartney team and he wrote a book about it; ‘Team On The Run’. To my shame, I hadn’t read the book, until now – I just had to have a word with Mr. Deering . . .
PEZ: Thank you for agreeing to speak to us, John – what’s the latest on Julian Clarke?
Now, that is a good question!
I haven’t spoken to him since well before I began to write Team on the Run, but not for any better reason than our paths haven’t crossed. Julian is electric company and they were exciting times. Google tells me that he’s dodged in and out of troubles not dissimilar to the team’s both before and since the team’s short life. Everybody that was involved at McCartney has a different view of him, and some have probably mellowed with time. There’s probably some degree of rose-tinting when I think of him now and how much his ideas did for me. In 2001, it was mainly shock that a friend could be so irresponsible and tell so many tall stories to your face, but he’d tell you that he was trying to pull off big coups that would benefit everyone.
PEZ: He didn’t seem to ‘live it large’ – or did he?
I certainly don’t believe he was a crook in the traditional sense. If there were untold millions that he pocketed he hid that extremely well. Much more likely that he tried to run the team and his life on much less money than was actually available in the optimistic belief that something would turn up. Don’t get me wrong, we lived in nice houses in Toulouse, but it was dirt cheap for British folk down there in that pre-Euro time. My salary rented me a three bedroom villa that I could furnish for next to nothing, where in London it had taken all mine and my wife’s monthly cash to keep our heads above water in a much meaner place.
PEZ: Would you still have a beer with him?
PEZ: A Giro stage and Lazio – remarkable results particularly given the circumstances . . .
The small size of the team meant we were such a happy bunch in many ways. Being an ingénue, I didn’t appreciate at the time how unusually close we were for a pro cycling team. We had much more of the lads-together atmosphere of a successful football club.
Egos weren’t obviously in attendance. Characters like Sean (Yates), Cel (Chris Lillywhite), Max (Sciandri), Spencer (Smith), Macca (David McKenzie) and Matt (Stephens) are always fun to be around in their different ways. If I’m ever stuck in a lift for days on end I only hope it will be with blokes like Ciaran Power, Ben Brooks or Bjornar Vestol. The influence of Keith Lambert (DS) is often forgotten too. Looking back, Julian and his antics overshadow everything, but on the road it was Sean and Keith who set the tone, the two most honest and decent human beings you could hope to meet.
PEZ: Are you still in touch with many of the guys?
Yep. It’s a lot easier with Facebook and the like of course. I see Chris Lillywhite at Chelsea Football Club – we’ve both got season tickets in the Matthew Harding Upper – and we watched Brad winning the Olympic TT at the end of his road, which was cool. I did a book about Brad after that amazing year of his that I didn’t feel exactly brilliant about as there was no involvement at all from him, but I only had good things to say about him so I hope he wasn’t pissed off with me. I went to Spain on a job with Matt Stephens last year and it was like old times. Max recommended me for a role at BMC which was nice of him, but I had good things happening in the UK, one of which was spending a year being bossed around by Sean again writing his autobiography with him. I’m Yorkshire bound before the winter is out if I can time it right and catch the Downings at home. I’m hoping to get to Ireland to see Ciaran and Lisa Power this year. She’s been really ill and come out the other side. Spence called a couple of months ago – instantly recognisable still. I have a longstanding invite to do some snow walking in Norway with Bjornar that gets me misty-eyed when I imagine it, and I haven’t seen Ben Brooks for way too long. That guy’s been through more than any of us; he’s a true inspiration.
PEZ: Did you get much ‘stick’ after the book came out? – you didn’t hold back . . .
I didn’t? I don’t really remember. It was really cathartic for me, writing that. I didn’t even read it back, just left it with the editor, which means that some idiosyncratic cock-ups made it into print (watching Milan – San Remo became watching a Milan v San Remo game). My main impetus for writing it was that I’d heard that a journalist was planning on doing a book about it, and I thought that I should try and get it down for all of us that were there to try and get it as close as I could to how it felt for us. I’ve never read it to be honest. I have good memories of the team, but writing about it all made me confront a lot of shit that I’d tucked away and that writing period wasn’t full of great moods.
PEZ: Did the continental Media approach you for your story after the dam broke?
Not that I recall. I did something for Procycling magazine. I’d been writing occasional things for them for a while and Jeremy Whittle (editor at the time) was always very supportive.
PEZ: You must be satisfied that you documented one of the sport’s legendary ‘affairs’?
Hmm. Good question. I’m glad that it was me that did it. But I fear that it’s far from being my best work. I don’t want to read it and find out that I did a shit job.
PEZ: Was there information which became available after publication – any examples for us?
Not really. There was lots of speculation amongst us. Most of the supposition of what happened came through me and Sean sitting down over a lunch somewhere and trying to piece together what we knew and fill in the gaps. The trouble is, thinking about it now, that few of the people he borrowed money off or who were involved were left looking particularly handsome by the affair, so they were as happy as anybody else to have it disappear into a murky past. Julian’s brushes with the law appear to have been led in each case by one determined individual who was set on not letting him get away with something dodgy. I’m not sure there was anybody in the McCartney fiasco playing that role.
PEZ: How much money did you lose when all was said and done?
Me? Not much. I didn’t have much to lose. It was more having your comfortable life tugged away unexpectedly and having to begin again. No different to anybody living away from home who loses their job I guess. And there was the pleasant bonus of a month’s wages turning up the next summer from the PCA which was a right result. My mate Peter Flynn who was part of the Toulouse gang and I went to Edinburgh Festival and blew it in a few days. It was my brother’s first Edinburgh (he’s a stand-up, he won Celebrity Mastermind on BBC1 TV last night) and we had a hoot.
PEZ: With hindsight, what would you have done differently?
Not much, really. Been a little more cynical maybe, but maybe not if I’m being totally honest. When your mates tell you something, you tend to believe them, it’s normal. And even if you have a suspicion that they might be bullshitting you, they usually have their reasons. I think I said something in the book about Max taking me aside and saying that he wanted us to stay working together, but I had to be less naïve, but Sean negated that by saying that a lot more experienced and savvy people than us had been taken in, so not to beat myself up.
PEZ: What was the ‘tipping point’ when he could no longer keep the plates spinning?
There were two; he survived the first one but should have come clean then. In the summer of 2000, after the Giro, the money had run out for the year. This, for me, is where the line got crossed. Lots of teams duck and dive their way through a year, especially then. (We forget how crappy it was in comparison to now – there were only a couple of teams with buses then!). We’ve seen plenty of teams since then come forward and say they had a shortfall and would fold unless blah, blah, blah. Instead, he made out all was good, and got McCartney to forward 2001’s amount – never much – immediately to plug the dyke. He then pushed on with gay abandon. The second, and fatal one, was going to the Tour Down Under 2001 pretending everything was great. That was a horrible, horrible time. I sent out our big proud press release about Jaguar coming on board as sub-sponsor and it was total bollocks. Humiliating and disastrous. And all a very long way from home.
PEZ: What’s your best memory of the team?
Predictably, Macca’s Giro stage win will always spring to mind first. I also remember coming back to Britain for the National Championships after the Giro and feeling part of something truly special. I was talking to Matt Stephens just before Christmas about going shopping in Solihull over that weekend and had a really intense flashback of just feeling so happy around then.
PEZ: And your worst?
Me and Richard Wooles clearing out my house in Toulouse out to run away. That drive back to St Malo – in a Beetle with a bike and pot plants round our ears – was a long miserable day on the autoroute.
PEZ: When you look at Team Sky do you ever wonder ‘what might have been?
Not really. The world wasn’t ready for us, even if we’d have pulled it off. And anybody dismissing Julian out of hand should remember that if the balls had fallen the other way, we might have done. The interest, money, talent and awareness that have been so brilliantly tapped into by Brailsford were still a few years away when we began in 1998.
PEZ: The Alonso mess, could you see that one coming?
Par for the course. I love cycling, but it’s a bit shit, isn’t it? Watching cycling is a bit like being a Leeds United Football Club fan.
PEZ: You mention Lance’s positive contribution to the sport in the book a few times – when did you realise how much of a sham it all was?
I used to feel a little bit sorry for Lance. I used to think that the sensible response to all the accusations – yeah, maybe I did a bit of this and that, but I was no different to anybody else – wasn’t one he would ever be able to present. I lost that through his outrageous abuse of people weaker than him. I was glad to see him brought down, ultimately, but I take no pleasure in sullying the memories of some fantastic sport.
PEZ: Did you ever imagine Bradley would scale the heights he has done?
I don’t think even Brad did. Sean certainly didn’t. Everybody could see how talented he was, but Tour winner? Come on!
PEZ: Do you still ‘go to the races?’
At first it was very, very difficult to be on the other side of the barriers, and I’ve never enjoyed it as a fan in the way I did before I was involved, though I still like a good race. The dreadful standard of TV coverage puts me off watching though. I prefer to watch it with my mates and figure out ourselves what is going on rather than listen to inept and complacent commentary. They really need to get people in from other sports. We’d still be watching cricket from one end with the occasional action replay if Sky hadn’t taken it off the BBC – and something like that needs to happen to cycling. I know I’m on a tangential rant, but it stands in the way of luring viewers who don’t ride bikes. I mean, I’m unlikely to ever play NFL, but it makes such great telly. The man to talk to is Rob Arnold, editor of Ride magazine, he could go on all night about it. Do I go to races . . . if it involves riding, I guess. I’ve done six Tours of Flanders now, riding the mass event on the Saturday and then watching the race on Sunday. I love that weekend. I worked on the Women’s Tour this year which was a lot of fun and took me back. But did I camp in Yorkshire to watch the Tour go past? Nooooo! I prefer riding. I’ve done two books with a photographer, Phil Ashley, where we’ve gone off and done stuff. That’s what I like. The first one was ’12 Months in the Saddle’ where we did Ventoux, Eroica and that sort of thing. This year we did ‘How to be a Cyclist’ which was a perfect platform for my opinionated bullshit.
PEZ: As a Chelsea Football Club mega-fan their manager Jose Mourinho’s success must have improved your quality of life no end?
Oh yes. I dream that I am Nemanja Matić (Chelsea star).
PEZ: Do you still have the McCartney team Principia?
That was a nice bike. I’m not really into ‘stuff,’ though. The only old thing I own is my ’66 Gibson Firebird I Non-Reverse guitar. I tend to ride a bike then get another one rather than collect them. We all know people with immaculate bikes in their garage that they refuse to take out in imperfect weather that are now entirely obsolete. Ride it, use it up, dump it, get another one. That’s my approach. I’ve got a new Canyon on its way for the spring, which excites me . . .
‘Team on The Run’ by John Deering– it’s well worth a read. All John’s books are available from Amazon and other outlets.
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.